Review: Shanghai Disneyland

adventureisle005

Once in every decade approximately, Disney opens a brand new theme park resort somewhere in the world. It’s a big deal if, like me, you’re a theme park nerd. Well this new Disney park might be an even greater deal because the newest member of the Magic Kingdom family is located in Shanghai, China. You know, that city with 24 million inhabitants. Disney just opened a theme park on a location where 330 million people live within a three hour drive or train ride. But a great location isn’t enough to guarantee the success of a new venue, so Disney CEO Bob Iger spent big money to allow Imagineers to dream equally big. The reported cost of the entire resort, including a theme park, two hotels and a shopping district is a whopping 5.5 billion US dollar.

Pretty much everything has been said about Shanghai Disney Resort prior to opening day. It’s too big. Too expensive. Too much intellectual properties (IP) and not enough rides created from non pre-existing content. The Chinese won’t get it. The Chinese will destroy it. The air pollution is terrible and it rains all the time (yeah, totally leggit reasons to prevent millions of people to be entertained). Then came even more speculation opportunities when extra rides were added during development, and when opening date was delayed of one year because of recurring issues with local contractors on construction site. Long story short the whole thing was way behind schedule and reportedly over budget.

I had the immense chance to visit the new park during opening week and I’m going to give you my impressions as a first-hand guest. We’ll see if it matches all the drama we’ve endured during this long process, and if it was all worth the wait. Ladies and gentlemen, beware of spoilers because I declare open your Shanghai Disneyland Quality Control Review!

MICKEY AVENUE

Shanghai Disneyland’s big idea is to completely reinvent the classic castle park, which has basically remained the same in Anaheim, Orlando, Tokyo, Paris and Hong Kong despite some adaptations here and there. In Shanghai there is no Main Street USA but Mickey Avenue: this  shopping and dining area is located right after the entrance turnstiles. Here, every building is themed after various Disney Characters, especially classic and older ones: Goofy has it’s own toy store, Chip and Dale have their treat parlor, there is a Remy themed patisserie etc. It’s not really like the characters are the owners of these outlets, nor they live in these houses. I think the idea is more like ‘what would it look like *if* Goofy had a store?’

This district is much shorter but also wider than the classic Main Streets. Despite the fact that some facades lack a bit more patine and aging to make it feel like it’s an actual place where real people could live, this tiny area definitely looks lovely. The overall concept certainly feels « average amusement park » because it’s like I’ve seen such character-themed-buildings-clashed-altogether-on-a-single-town-place so many times in theme parks. The big difference here is the execution. It’s so well done, and there are so many things to look at, so many fun details and nods to famous and obscure characters on Mickey Avenue that it’s definitely worth spending time in it. Only a couple of houses really look themeparky tacky, like this waffle parlor made of… giant waffle walls of course! Yuck. Or the awful Silly Symphonies purple-ish facade. Mickey Avenue also feature something unique in all Disney parks: the use of pure disney branding in architecture. You can find the famous ‘D’ from the Disney corporate logo used here and there. It’s a bit surprising and, once again, off theme and themeparky. I assume this, like the heavy use of Disney characters on Mickey Avenue, serves the purpose of helping disney building and consolidating its brand on Chinese territory, where Disney IP knockoffs have been common for decades. While it’s a bit weird, it’s definitely and interesting concept and a charming place.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

My biggest concern about Mickey Avenue is that some materials used on most shop marquee signs and neon boxes look completely out of theme. A laminate sign with no texture, no patine on front of a nicely themed building made of wood (looking) material is a big no-no. But don’t get me wrong, overall, Mickey Avenue is really cute, filled with cool details and 50’s jazz music: famous jazz standards from the 50’s and jazzy reinterpretations from Disney classic tunes, from Snow White to Frozen to Up to Ratatouille. The atmosphere of Mickey Avenue will certainly remind you of Buena Vista Street at Disney California Adventure, and it’s a great thing.

GARDENS OF IMAGINATION

Right behind Mickey Avenue is another new land created especially for the Shanghai park: Gardens of Imagination. It’s a large park located between Mickey Avenue and the Storybook Castle, full of greenery, water pieces, bridges and also two family classic rides: Dumbo The Flying Elephant and Fantasia Carousel. The whole area feels a bit odd to me. It’s like it has no clear purpose. Despite the funny tai chi lesson show with Chip and Dale and two family rides, it feels sort of meaningless and there isn’t much to do except having some rest on a bench.

I get that this land supposed to be a place to escape from the fuss of the rest of the park but neither the environment nor the symphonic background music from Fantasia really succeed at providing a truly relaxing environment like you can find in Efteling for example. It doesn’t feel good as you expect it to be. Mickey Avenue does a much better job at that. Maybe time will help make greenery more lush and this place will really come to life then.

A large potion of Gardens of Imagination is actually an audience area for the daytime and nighttime castle shows, but it remains an empty space most of the time. This configuration with a larger-than-life stage and audience area right in front of the castle also prevents a very simple yet important experience in the Disney castle parks: entering the castle through the front gate. That moment when you feel like you’re the prince(ss) of your own castle. It’s a missed opportunity and the configuration of the Paris castle with the same open air stage and audience area on the side of the castle is a much better solution in my opinion. The Shanghai castle porch configuration sort of breaks the environment harmony an natural guest flow to access the castle from the front side.

Speaking about the castle and guest flow, unlike the usual central hub in front of the castle, Gardens of Imagination does not allow you to easily find and go to the land you want to visit next. Partly because of the audience area. As weird as it sounds, the space that serves the purpose of central hub in Shanghai Disneyland is actually the esplanade located right behind the castle. This is the easiest, fastest path to go from one land to another. It means that during your visit time, you’re more likely to see the back of the castle most of the time. So overall, I’m not a big fan of Gardens of Imagination.

TOMORROWLAND

Let’s go to the West side of the park, to Tomorrowland. This new take on the usual futuristic land of the Disney parks does not look very different from a modern shopping mall or a stadium. Especially in a city like shanghai, full of contemporary buildings. It’s pretty strange when you head to the resort’s metro station at night and you discover that it looks quite similar with the canopy and LED lights from the TRON ride. I would say Tomorrowland lacks of a touch of fantasy to help this land really fit and make sense in a theme park. To be fair, I must say the real beauty of this Tomorrowland is more in the little details, like materials, subtle geometric patterns on glasses, sharp shapes engraved in walls, like walls, buildings and structures were made with a huge 3D printer machine. All these things are hard to be seen on picture but unmissable when you visit the land.

But just because it looks like existing contemporary cities, like Shanghai ironically, does not mean it’s a failure. Tomorrowland looks sharp and neat during the day – a bit empty too – and at night, it’s like you’re visiting a completely different place. The massive use of moving lights, and the powerful background score from electronic music composer BT (those loud basses!) made me feel like I was attracted by Tomorrowland like a magnet. It’s really an electric, vivid atmosphere, especially at night where it looks like a giant open air night club – in a good way.

TRON Lightcycle Power Run is one of the park’s headliner attractions. It’s an indoor rollercoaster where riders take place on replicas of the TRON Legacy film’s Lightcycle bikes. It’s located under a huge canopy that sort of looks like a modern stadium. Despite this extra-large structure, the show building of TRON is visible almost from every angle and it’s not so good looking. It’s slightly dull by day but visually stunning at night with all the LED light effects. I’m usually a big hater of those modern buildings that use ever changing LED color lights but here it’s more than just color variations: changing color light flows like waves on the canopy and there are light shapes that appear when the trains go by and it looks just neat.

Operating TRON seems very problematic at this moment, which has become common these days when new, complex rides open (Gringotts, Ratatouille, Crush’s Coaster…). As a result, the queue line is painfully long: usually up to 150 minutes when Pirates of the Caribbean, the other main headliner ride has a 10 minute wait. At least the queue line is awesome because you’re literally inside the Grid. How to explain what the Grid is? Let’s just say it’s a fantasy vision of the inside of a computer where eeh, programs and algorithms look like humans. A sleek and dramatic pre show offers a stunning view on the train launch: with a small group of people, you’re facing this large blue wall which is sort of a display screen. Futuristic forms and shapes appear on it and all of a sudden, this projection screen shuts down, becomes a large window that gives the group a breathtaking view on the train, right when it’s launched. This effect is simply awesome and is the perfect way to instantly transport you into the dark and glowing world of the Grid – you can watch this fascinating sequence here. The loading station is surprisingly large and like the rest of the queue line, plays the tension-heavy background music from the original soundtrack by Daft Punk. Perfect.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The ride itself is just as perfect. It’s surely not the most comfortable experience you’ll have on a rollercoaster ride but the biker position adds a lot to make you feel involved into the action.The design of the Lightcycles is pure eye-candy. Wheels light up once you’re seated and fastened and each back safety harness has an ‘ID light disc’ just like the riders in the movies. It’s really neat. Every Lightcycle features an audio system right below your head, and there is also a small box to store small sized items like phone and wallet, which is a great alternative to the hassle of the  lockers. I’ve even heard a very 80’s ‘game over’ type of sound when a train has a problem and needs to leave the track to go backstage!

Treat yourself and experience first row to feel like you’re free riding the Grid all by yourself. I didn’t expect the launch to be that fast and the ride provides some really good thrills. The outdoor portion under the canopy offers a great view and the inside part of the ride is an amazing recreation of the Grid. It is without a doubt the greatest indoor rollercoaster that I’ve experienced. No other indoor rollercoaster I know features so many theming elements inside of the show building. Expect heavy use of blacklight, neon boxes (or rather LED boxes actually) and screens. There is also a clever and uncommon use of mirrors. One of them makes you believe you’re competing against another train from Team Red, but it’s actually the train you’re on while the blue lights on your Lightcycle wheels are turned red just during this short portion. Smart! There are also two large projection screens along the end of the track for an epic climax sequence where your virtual competitors from Team Red end up in a thunderous bike crash. Despite it’s a bit short, TRON is a brilliant, truly contemporary rollercoaster with great thrills and well balanced use of media. Despite its moderate box office success, TRON was the perfect IP to be turned into theme park environment. Giving guests the ability to ride the iconic Lightcycles from the movies is exactly what you want watching the film, and it’s precisely what you get. Well done and thank you Disney.

Tomorrowland is also home to mid-range attractions that we already know: JetPacks which is sort of a floorless Astro Orbitor ride, Stitch Encounter and the Buzz Lightyear laser gun thing. This one has been nicely improved because they finally ditched the awful art direction from the crappy TV cartoon and used the aesthetics of the Toy Story movies instead. An obvious choice they should have made since the first Buzz Lightyear ride opened in Florida.

FANTASYLAND

Let’s move to Fantasyland, home of Storybook Castle. It’s big and boxy. It’s even more huge than it looks on picture. The most beautiful Disney castle is still Paris, but big thumbs up for the wonderful night lighting of Shanghai Storybook Castle. Unfortunately I haven’t had the chance to visit the Once Upon a Time Adventure princess walkthrough. And because I’m not interested in Princess meet and greet, princess dining and princess live show, all I experienced was the main hall, which, with the serious lack of shadow in the park, was packed with guests sitting on the floor. During most of the day, it basically looks like Disneyland’s 24h events at 3AM, with people fallen asleep on the floor. That said, the main hall looks beautiful with the Disney fairy tale mosaics but I still prefer the DLP version with the amazing stained glass work. One more point about a specificity that made some die hard Imagineering fans pissed off: the fact that this castle is based off various princesses instead of one. They said it’s too much focus on Disney branding instead of storytelling. Well, in fact it strictly doesn’t change anything to the castle experience. So there’s that.

Voyage to the Crystal Grotto is a boat ride whose ride system is similar to the Jungle Cruise, with a skipper on every boat. It consists of a boat sightseeing of various scenes of Disney classics: Little Mermaid, Mulan, Aladdin… These famous scenes are recreated in elaborate water fountains. It’s nicely done but a bit kitsch (to say the least) and… a bit boring. Even the finale in the grotto, under the castle, is a bit disappointing: just jewels video projection on cave walls. There is also a totally off theme spinning cube structure made of flowers. It must be something relevant in Chinese culture I guess because it has absolutely no link with the rest of the ride. But the most curious thing is the design of the boats, which includes vibrant neon lights and is made of material that just feels too contemporary to fit well in Fantasyland. Just like these laminate marquee signs on Mickey Avenue. Let’s move on and pretend Crystal Grotto never happened.

Right in front of Crystal Grotto is Peter Pan’s Flight. Disney greatly improved this classic with a lot of video projections that are seamlessly integrated into the scenery. In places, the use of video is so subtle you may not even notice it, like these tiny waves bumping on island shores, on the ride’s floor. It’s brilliant and definitely a must see from Shanghai Disneyland. Do not skip Peter Pan’s Flight when you visit.

Fantasyland features more rides that we already know: The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh dark ride. These two are exact clones from the US parks. I just don’t get why Disney keeps hiding the gorgeous Mine Train behind so many trees: you could even miss it’s right there.

Winnie The Pooh not only has a dark ride, but also a whole new take on the classic Mad Hatter Tea Cups spinning ride: Hunny Pot Spin. It looks slightly ‘average amusement park theming’ but it’s very cute overall.

Finally in Fantasyland, the Alice in Wonderland Maze invites you to get lost in Wonderland. I must say that I’ve never been a fan of this Tim Burton movie and its art direction (the maze isn’t based off the Disney animated classic like in Paris). But once again the execution is really good and the background music from Danny Elfman gives the Eastern castle area the ironic and bittersweet atmosphere Elfman is famous for, which provides a totally new, quirky vibe to a Disney park.

TREASURE COVE

Let’s move ahead to Treasure Cove, a large area entirely based off the Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise. It’s the home of a couple of innovative kid playgrounds and interactive experiences like Siren’s Revenge, an elaborate walkthrough located on a pirate ship full of fun things to do like playing with the treasure maps seen in the films and having a water canon battle.

The theming of the land is incredibly rich, packed with antique artifacts, props and full of jokes and nods to the movies. Treasure cove, along with Adventure Isle are the most elaborate lands of the park. These are just as beautiful and immersive as Adventureland in Disneyland Paris.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

More importantly the park’s most anticipated attraction is located in Treasure Cove: Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure. While this is a boat ride, it’s very different from the classic pirate attractions from Disney. I mean *very* different. Here your boat can go faster or slower, it spins, moves forward, backwards and sideways through some of the largest and highest sets ever seen on a Disney dark ride. But that’s not all. Battle for the Sunken Treasure includes a lot of mind blowing special effects. The jaw dropping apparition of Jack Sparrow (a combination of audio animatronic, pepper ghost and video projection) is mastered to perfection; most ceilings are deep, light blue to provide the surreal effect you’re actually under water; the audio animatronic game is solid and of course, you have these massive domed projection screens. These seem even larger than the largest screens from Ratatouille at Disneyland Paris and Gringotts at Universal Orlando.

Cinematic sequences are larger than life and really stunning, despite the ride does not require 3D glasses – which is quite an achievement these days. Besides, some scenes include projection screens blended into physical scenery and their integration is fascinatingly seamless. The various apparitions of the giant kraken far away under water are incredibly realistic. And freaking huge! On some screens, the kraken must be like 10m long. The ride not only has huge screens but also smaller ones here and there, so you can see apparitions of various characters through the windows of large ships. The use of ‘perspective shift’ technique (also called Squinching by Universal) on every screen is perfect, except for one specific scene if you’re on the back rows – so make sure to go first or second row at least for your first time riding it.

Unlike older dark rides, Battle for the Sunken Treasure is one of these new generation of immersive attractions where the riders are at the very heart of the action because every animatronic, every projection screen starts when your boat reaches them. Boats include a powerful embarked sound system so every rider is literally surrounded by sound. The score helps a lot increasing the tension and drama as your boat progresses into the story: as a result, the overall experience feels closer to a film than a theme park attraction. Like TRON or Cars Land, it’s really like you’re in the movie. The boat’s ability to change speed, spin and move sideways is another fantastic innovation. Not to mention that boats are slightly motion based when they face some cinematic screens. It really feels like your boat is haunted, and combined with the loud embarked soundtrack you’re in for a dramatic, unforgettable journey.

While it’s a bit weird that most of the action happens ‘underwater’ in the abyss, you’re still on a boat floating on actual water – but maybe it’s a nod to Inception? It’s not a big deal but just a bit odd. Also, unlike Universal rides like Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Skull Island Reign of Kong or The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, nothing is made to restrain your view. It means that you can easily see the top of the screens or the technical stuff if you move your head where you shouldn’t. But these are minor issues on one of the most fascinating dark rides I’ve ever experienced. It’s possibly the attraction that best combines large-scaled, richly detailed physical scenery and large video projection screens. If it wasn’t enough, this ride has solid hourly capacity – it’s usually less than a 10min wait during week days. If that reported cost of half a billion US dollar just for this new POTC ride is true, It’s worth every penny. Battle for the Sunken Treasure. Is. Totally. Sick.

On Treasure Cove, make sure to attend Eye of The Storm – Captain Jack’s Spectacular. A live show with a lot of stunts, including an epic finale with performers litterally floating in the air, no strings attached, right in the… eye of the storm. Really, don’t miss it.

Photo: LeParcorama.com

ADVENTURE ISLE

Last land but not least: Adventure Isle. The only area of the park where no ride is based on a movie IP is also home to some of my favorite environments and attractions in Shanghai Disneyland. Adventure Isle influences are diverse: Arbori, Inca, with a layer of explorer era throughout all the land – a big favorite of Walt Disney Imagineering. The icon of this land, and perhaps of all the park, is Apu Taku Mountain: a larger than life rock work masterpiece with a big waterfall that dominates Adventure Isle. Here and there are displayed many animal sculptures made of piled rocks by the inhabitants, and the vegetation, whether it’s real or artificial is amazingly lush and wild. It’s the more detailed and elaborate part of the park. There are so many things to explore besides the rides that you can easily spend half a day pretending you’re an explorer from the 30’s.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

First: Soaring Over the Horizon. This new version of the incomprehensibly popular Soarin’ flying theaters from Epcot and Disney California Adventure is the first iteration to have an actual storyline and theming. Finally! And it’s really good. Basically you enter the temple of a thunderbird from an Inca legend that will make you fly around the world – or something, it’s all in Chinese, remember? The entrance and queue line is a rock work marvel. Theming is simple but has very nice Inca details everywhere on the walls. The line can be insanely long but the waiting area has an amazing recreation of a night sky full of stars. Sometimes, animal shaped constellations quietly appear in the sky. It’s quite surreal and peaceful.

The ride itself is the same Soarin’ experience you know and love from the US parks except it just doesn’t soar above California but various natural and man-made marvels from around the world instead. Among others places: the Swiss Matterhorn mountain, India’s Taj Mahal, Egyptian Gizeh Pyramids, Paris’ Eiffel Tower, the Great Wall of China and of course Shanghai’s futuristic skyline. The transitions are a bit too repetitive in my opinion, and I miss some of the thrilling sequences we had on the California version when we were soaring very close right above the river and mountains. But overall this new version is a great improvement supported by a nice storyline, all in superb Inca temple theming.

Roaring Rapids is a raft ride whose layout is similar to Disney California Adventure’s Grizzly River Run. Here you’re invited to take part in an expedition to find out about the existence of the ancient Arbori native legend of Q’aráq, a super-sized crocodile-like creature hidden in the mountains. The rapids are surprisingly wild and fast. It’s a fun ride. Roaring Rapids is the latest attraction that has been open to guests during park trial operation period. Like many other rides in the park currently, Rapids seem to suffer from technical issues. The entire portion in the mountain was in total darkness, even on the Q’aráq scene, so it’s hard for me to tell how good it was. But the expedition theme, full of antique props, from the queue line to the ride is definitely gorgeous, and the sound system with the loud roars of Q’aráq echoing everywhere in the mountain is really exciting.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Final attraction of this review but certainly not least: Camp Discovery is the whole area surrounding Apu Taku Mountain. This location is my absolute favorite of all the greatness Shanghai Disneyland has in store – and possibly all theme parks I’ve ever visited. It has one of the most beautiful pieces of rock work ever created, it’s packed with (hidden) details and stunning views on the area. It also features so many things to do: a playground and excavation side for kids (including kids that are actually 32 years old like me), marvelous walkthroughs across the whole area and inside the mountain, and more importantly Challenge Trails, a rope course on steroids. I think it’s the first time a theme park of this scale opened a rope course and it’s a brilliant idea.

You can choose between three courses that will make you discover different types of environments: Hidden Falls Chamber for a inside look behind this big ass waterfall; Echo Cavern for wonderful canyon like rocks and cave paintings; and House of Ancients, an in-progress excavation site leading to an old Arbori trading center. Each course will not only bring you through various environments, but also make you walk, climb and go through obstacles in very different ways. It’s too bad it’s strictly forbidden to bring *anything* in your pocket because Challenge Trails provide some stunning views on Adventure Isle and Treasure Cove.

Every course is made of three parallel paths and includes many switches in order to let people wait for their friends or go further in front of slower adventurers. It’s done really well because it efficiently prevents traffic jams on the courses. Also, on every course there is an easier path way for every obstacle that’s a bit more difficult or scary, so nobody’s forced to do things they can’t do. Because of this, you can see people of all ages taking the Challenge Trail, from little kids to grand parents! It’s just brilliant. The whole attraction also gives a lot of life to the area and it actually makes you achieve something, which is very rare in theme parks. I truly hope guest will behave safely and responsibly, otherwise I’m afraid Disney will be forced to add warning signs, safety railings and nets everywhere and it will greatly damage the scenery but also the great sense of freedom, danger and bravery of the experience, which is the very point of it.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

From amazing rock work mountain, to various bridges, to water features, to explorer’s props, everything looks beautiful and incredibly realistic, and it starts from the queue line, where you go trough the camp site of the explorers – unfortunately, there is an absolute ‘nothing in your pockets’ policy, so pictures of the queue line are hard to make. Overall Camp Discovery Challenge Trails is one of the most innovative things in Shanghai Disneyland and it’s one of the things I liked the most in the park.

Actually, the only theming issue I have in Shanghai Disneyland is that theater show buildings are really, and I mean *really* massive and not always well hidden. Sometimes they did some great effort to cover them with large, true to life backdrops (Pirates of the Caribbean, Eye of the Storm Fandango Theater, Soaring) and sometimes it’s like they just forgot, or couldn’t cover them properly. As a result these huge, ugly, boxy warehouses are visible in plain sight, even from afar (TRON, Frozen live show, Walt Disney Theater). I’m not even sure that greenery could help when it will grow up.

The heavy use of IP’s in shanghai Disneyland has also been much talked about, not in a good way. At this moment, it’s hard to tell how well these huge lands based on a single IP will age. But one thing is sure: whether it’s based on an IP or not, great theme park environment is great theme park environment, period. Like Cars Land in California Adventure, Treasure Cove in Shanghai is remarkable theme park environment. It does’t really matter that the original content and characters have not been created for the park. It’s just so damn good, with rich decoration and a deep storyline.

After all the alarming things that have been said during the development of this park, while visiting the park I kept hearing « See? Never judge a book by its cover » in my mind. Shanghai Disneyland is a fascinating achievement that has so many great things to offer. While I just reviewed the most important rides here, the park’s offer is complete with a dozen of shows and live entertainment, a large scale night time show, Star Wars and Marvel exhibitions, numerous character meet and greets, as well as various exploration opportunities, from interactive experiences like Siren’s Revenge, to rich theming and countless details everywhere, to this fun Magic Passport activity that mainly consists of getting your passport stamped at a dozen of locations in the park. I’d recommend two days at least to visit it. For a park that’s just opened, Shanghai Disneyland has a solid attraction and entertainment lineup. Quality *and* quantity.

It was a huge challenge for Disney to start over and reinvent the castle park almost from scratch. While so many choices seemed so risky and controversial prior to opening day, except for a few things, in general this new take on the castle park concept is a modern masterpiece of a theme park. New technologies like projection screens are everywhere, but they’re used right. It’s not a place where you’ll find technology for the sake of technology. Technology is here to help telling the story, to immerse you even more into fantasy environments. Shanghai Disneyland delivers a lot of lessons to be learned by the amusement park industry, and it will without a doubt be an uplifting game changer for the booming Chinese theme park landscape. I truly wish you’ll have the chance to visit this ambitious park one day.

If you’re already decided to go, I’d like to share some first hand tips with you. I visited the park during opening week. It seems that many things in the park still need some technical fine tuning and adjustments. I expected it to be this way so I was ok, but it’s crucial to know what to expect if you plan to visit during the months following opening day. At this time (June 2016), ride operation is still unstable. Some attractions seem to run with no problem, other are much more affected by technical difficulties. These problems can lead to sky rocketing wait times/non-moving queue lines and temporary closures. And by temporary, I mean from a couple of hours of down time to full day closure in some cases. The attractions that seem to suffer the most of technical difficulties when I visited were TRON, Roaring Rapids and Voyage to the Crystal Grotto (but who cares about the tacky grotto, eh?) All of these had to be closed from half a day to a full day. Also, on rides that are open, you should expect random show quality. Don’t get me wrong, overall it’s great but some special effects here and there are sometimes non working. Now don’t worry, if you’re used to the Disneyland Paris quality Standard, Shanghai is still way above it.

FastPass and single rider lines are also randomly open at this moment, which makes FastPass strategy and planification obsolete ahead of your visit. That said, try to get some for Roaring Rapids and TRON because these rides break down quite a lot which increases wait time when they’re open; and Soaring because of its insane popularity.

While the merchandise offering is quite a disappointment and on par with Disneyland Paris’ tacky ranges of products, Shanghai Disneyland has a very nice roaster of restaurants. I think all of them are moderately priced counter services and they’re pretty tasty. I strongly recommend the grilled squid at Barbossa’s Bounty, where you can have a table view on the boats of Pirates of the Caribbean passing by. Tangled Tree Tavern is a fine option as well for asian food. For breakfast or afternoon snacking, just grab some delicious pastries and various cakes at Remy’s Patisserie.

Finally I’d like to address some alarming reports that have appeared online since the park is open to guests. While many people were afraid of how local guest would behave in the first Disney park in Mainland China, I must say I have seen a little bit more ‘bad guest behavior’ than in the US parks and no more than usual in Paris. Unlike Paris, Shanghai guest respect the non smoking policy and use the dedicated areas. On the other hand, although all queue line railings have been designed to make it impossible for people to pass under handrails to cut the line, it’s quite common that single persons pass all the people queueing in line to go find their family ahead in the line. I’ve witnessed two women fist fighting in the Roaring Rapids line because of this type of behavior. Because there are a lot of (unpleasant) large switch back queue line areas on most rides, I think it might be hard for CMs to arrive fast enough to intermediate. Speaking of Cast Members, the park is staffed like no other and I must say that the Shanghai Cast Members are incredibly nice and helpful. Even when they don’t easily speak English, they’ll do their best to help you or find an English-speaking Cast Member near you.

Please don’t believe those media outlets that are depicting Shanghai Disney as a dirty, deteriorated place where guest behave like animals though – never forget that drama makes people click and the more clicks they have, the more money they make. Not that these pictures have been made up of course, but park cleaning teams are constantly *everywhere* and no trash seem to stay on the floor for more than five minutes. I found Shanghai Disneyland’s cleanliness on par with the US parks and wayyyy cleaner than Disneyland Paris. Hopefully the efforts of local cast members and management are here to stay. Because with all the spectacular things Shanghai Disneyland has from day one, Disney’s new generation theme park is up to become one of the greatest theme parks ever built.

I’ve tried to capture all the greatness of Shanghai Disneyland in the video above, I hope you’ll enjoy it. Also ifyou want more, make sure to listen to this episode of the Parkscope podcast where I was invited to talk about my experience visiting Shanghai Disney Resort, including theme park, Disneyland Hotel, Cast Members and more!

So, What are your thoughts about Shanghai Disneyland? Does it make you want to plan a big trip to China? Have you had the chance to visit it already? I’m curious to know what you think so make sure to let me know your thoughts in the comment section below! Also make sure to follow Le Parcorama on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook because I still have tons of Shanghai Disney pictures to share!

27 Comments

  1. Wow! What an excellent review! Thank you for those fascinating insights, now I can’t wait to go there, damn :) Great video tour, too – love the editing (and the music)!

    • Le Parcorama

      Thank you so much! It’s really worth the trip to Shanghai, I hope you’ll have the chance to visit this amazing park one day!

  2. The review was perfect when i read it yesterday, but today i took the time to watch the video, and I have to say: excellent work ! Just like your WDW video, it made me feel like I was in the park, and I just can’t wait to discover it in real life.

    Thank you for all the good work !

    • Le Parcorama

      Thank you for the nice words, I appreciate! While I like toying with video editing, my skills are still pretty limited so I’m very glad you liked it!

  3. Great job with such an extensive review! I’d love to make it over to Shanghai, but it’s very unlikely at this point. I’ll be curious to see how they fill in some of the lands, especially Tomorrowland. It’s cool to see Disney building some new attractions and using the latest technology. I wish they’d take a similar approach at some of the U.S. parks.

    • Le Parcorama

      Thank you Dan! I haven’t mentionned it, but your can see there are still many available spaces inside the park to build new rides. For now, these are used as picnic areas.

  4. Maggie Simpson

    Donc en fait, parmi les 3 attractions Disney qui mêlent écrans et vrais décors, y a que Ratatouille qui est “mouais” ?

    Si je compte les vraiment bonnes attractions, j’en compte trois : Les rapides, POTC et Tron. C’est pas assez pour justifier le voyage. Mais je suis très curieux de visiter le parc avec son agencement très particulier et ses zones Adventureland-like très belles.

    Après ta description je comprends mieux l’engouement pour Tron. Pour moi c’était un motocoaster Vekoma mélangé avec le Rock’n’Rollercoaster parisien, bref ça m’en touchait une sans réveiller l’autre. Maintenant je suis curieux.

    • Le Parcorama

      C’est malheureusement vrai: un fossé sépare la qualité de ce nouveau Pirates et Mystic Manor de Ratatouille à DLP.

      J’ajouterais tout de même Challenge Trails dans le registre des grandes réussites. L’aspect low-tech peut paraitre moins attractif, mais ce n’en n’est pas moins l’un des grands piliers du parc. Comme Soaring d’ailleurs, même si ce n’est pas très neuf pour nous.

  5. Tom loves Lily

    Me and my wife will be there in October to celebrate our anniversary. We will only be going on a Saturday (I wanted to do both Saturday and Sunday but my wife is from Guangzhou and she wanted to visit Shanghai proper on Sunday since she has never been), any tips on how to enjoy the park on a Saturday (I know it will be packed with people). For me the 3 must do’s are Pirates, Soaring and Tron, is their fast pass system like California or have they adapted the Magic band + system? We will be staying at the Toy Story hotel, do they offer any kind of park benefits for guests (early entry)? Anything that you would say absolutely skip so we can avoid and make the most of our time? Thanx for the great review by the way, I’m really excited to get there and with have been to Hong Kong Disneyland so many times (it is just 1.5 hours away from Guangzhou by high speed train) I am curious how they compare (meaning Chinese citizens to mainland Chinese citizens) because I really like HKD.

    • Le Parcorama

      Hi Tom! Thanks for your comment, I’m glad you enjoyed the review!

      Shanghai Fastpass system is the same as the original one with paper tickets, except that distribution takes places at one location in every land instead of in front of each ride. Unse Fastpass for TRON, Roaring Rapids and Soarin from rope drop. Make sure to arrive one hour prior opening time.

      I don’t think hotels offer special treats like this.

      I suggest you skip everything similar to the parks you already visited, but make sure to visit Peter Pan anyway.

      Have a fantastic trip to Shanghai!

  6. Gavin Jones

    Great report. I was at the park on Friday and Saturday of last week, so I guess a week or so after you, and share a lot of your thoughts on the place, especially the bizarre non-land in front of the castle and the annoyance at the misinformed news reports about the clientele.

    The issues with TRON seem to have been sorted out now; there weren’t any issues across the two days I was there and they were getting trains out every 20-30 seconds. Waiting times, even on a very busy Saturday didn’t seem to get above 75 minutes. On the Friday, they peaked at an hour. A lot of other rides were going down throughout the day, including frequent issues with Pirates, but the downtime seemed to be sorted out quickly.

    Sorry to be “that guy”, but Pirates doesn’t have a Fastpass option, just a single rider queue, which they seem to open and close quite randomly. The single rider queue for Roaring Rapids was never used over the two days I was there, which was incredibly frustrating given the huge waiting times.

    My advice, if you’ve got two days at the park, would be to head to Adventure Isle immediately and get a fastpass for Soaring on one day and Roaring Rapids on the other, but get there right at opening as people have already worked this out and they go VERY fast.

    I’ve just done a trip report here if you’re interested in comparing thoughts:
    http://forums.coasterforce.com/viewtopic.php?f=31&t=40137

    It’s a bit more sweary than yours though!

    • Le Parcorama

      Hi Gavin, thanks for sharing your thoughts and touring tips!

      So the rides are operating even more randomly than I thought. Pirates was running flawlessly during my three day visit while TRON had many tech difficulties, and you had the exact opposite.

      I think getting fastpasses for TRON and Roaring Rapids early in the morning is the way to go. I also suggest arriving *in the park* ( = all security bag check and admission ticket turnstiles done) one hour before scheduled park opening because most rides were running and fastpass distribution started before opening time – which was very weird and extremely frustrating.

      Thank you for noticing me the FastPass error, I’m going to correct that in the post.

      • Kevinwdw

        I visited Shanghai Disneyland on Monday and all your observations are correct. Here are a few more that I could share to your readers. I arrived at Pudong Airport at 6am and took a taxi to my hotel for the night – Toy Story Hotel. When I arrived at 645am, the reception desk is divided in half (Left side is for Check-out and the Right side for Check-in). At check-in that early, your room will not be ready. You may store your bags at the bell desk and you are given a room key card (no room number is printed) and if you purchase admission, it will be printed on your card. They do mention to take a picture w your Smartphone or Camera of the card with the code as it can be replaced at Guest Services in the hotel or in the park. Shuttle bus service which is frequent starts at 7am and takes less than 8 minutes to the park, five minutes from the park. Alternatively, you can walk to the entrance in about ten minutes. The entry area opened one hour prior to opening, the entrance gate opened at 45 mins prior to opening and you are allowed up to the end of Mickey Avenue. 15 mins prior to opening – the pathway to the all lands open but the attractions do not open until opening time. Majority of the crowd heard for Adventure Isle Fastpass Station. Some headed to Tron. Very few people head towards Fantasyland. On this day, Tron was operating without down time. Pirates closed after 2pm due to Technical Difficulties. Camp Discovery is a great spot for photos and yes, you can spot especially at night the Shanghai Tower and the Shanghai World Financial Center (bottle Cap Opener Building) in Pudong! Snacks – Turkey leg, Churro, etc., don’t open until the early afternoon 2pm and closed at 7pm. The only snack that was available in the morning was Caramel Popcorn. You are allowed to take in packaged food and drinks. Save your container as most drinking fountains are designed to fill your water container! Otherwise you can spend 10 yuan or about 1.75 for a bottle of water. If you plan to take the Metro to Disney, there have a handful of convenience stores at local prices (so stock up there if you want) at the station before you exit the building. Due note the last train is usually10:15-10:30pm (posted at the Metro Station). Announcement is made in the park at closing time to be mindful of the last train. Otherwise take a taxi back to your hotel (note – have a business card or print your hotel’s address in Chinese). The Disney Hotels buses was still operating well past 11pm Monday night (I spend as much time taking photos after the park closed at 9pm knowingly the crowds will be huge at Bus Stop. After 45 mins, I made my way for food in Downtown Disney. There is a Bread – bakery and bough three items and noticed they were 50% off. So maybe the items are discounted during their last hour.

  7. Wow, this is by far the best Shanghai Disney review I have seen. I enjoyed the photos and narratives, and thanks for the useful tips. I love the Adventure isle and Camp Doscovery for its scenery, and it is already my favorite land in the park even before I visit. If I want to go though all 3 challenge Trails, how long will that take? And if I have to pick only one, which one do you think is the best?

    Thanks! -Phil from Los Angeles, USA

    • Le Parcorama

      Hi Phil! Thanks for the nice words, I appreciate some feedback:-)
      Camp Discover in Adventure Isle is amazing.

      Your experience taking one Challenge Trail should be like 10 minutes approximately, but remember that you’ll have to queue in line (and potentially queue in line for lockers too) every time you want to ride one of the three courses.

      I only had the chance to experience the red one: Hidden Falls Chamber, which, I think has more impressive views and obstacles. Make sure to walk around the mountain too because you can watch most of every course along the tracks.

      Enjoy your trip to Shanghai!

  8. Sylvain

    Je partage cette fascination pour les parcs à thème, leur architecture, leur mise en scène, l’immersion et l’ambiance extraordinaires qu’ils arrivent parfois à dégager.

    Et je n’ai pas cette chance de pouvoir voyager pour découvrir tous ces parcs. Mais heureusement Le Parcorama me permet de le faire.
    Félicitations et merci pour ce travail fabuleux, pour ce regard d’expert passionné. Longue vie à vous !

    • Le Parcorama

      Mille mercis Sylvain pour ce commentaire encourageant! J’espere que tu auras toi aussi la chance de découvrir ces grands parcs. N’hésite pas à faire un tour dans les archives et reviews du blog en attendant!

  9. Great review! I’ve been reading all of them, so you learn a little more with each one.

    I’ll be going in December for two days. I’ll be trying my best to see every attraction and show in those two days. My home park is Disneyland in California. I have also done many trips to WDW in Florida, so I’m used to planning my park strategy. I will have all your must do’s on my first day list, to give me a backup day if they are down some or all of the first day.

    I’ve read there is no traditional rope drop like in the states, that you can go to anywhere in the park and all the attractions open at the time the park opens. Is that the correct information?

    • Le Parcorama

      Hi Chris – thanks for your comment!

      Rope drop is a tricky question regarding my experience. I arrived a few minutes before rope drop and it was like the park was already open: rides were running, fastpass distribution already started and had a long line. I was very weird and frustrating.

      Also, I had long lines at security bagage check and especially at admission ticket check.

      So my advice may sound a bit radical but I’d suggest you do everything you can to be in the park thirty to fourty minutes before scheduled opening. It means, arriving at bagage check and ticket check one hour prior park opening time.

      Have a great trip to Shanghai!

  10. I was so excited for “PIrates of the Copyright” – a “distinctly Chinese” attraction celebrating the merry ways of the Chinese industry… Too bad that fell through…

  11. Johnny_87sp

    Wow, I just discovered your blog and, to be honest, the best review I’ve seen on Shanghai Disneyland, I’m about to explore the rest of your website. Keep up this good job. Definitely eye candy!

  12. I enjoyed your reviews and pictures. I hope to make it to Shanghai Disneyland someday. By the way would you happen to have a close up picture of the pirate flag on top of the fortress? My friend made a flag for Shanghai Disney but he has no idea where it was placed. From your pictures it appears to be the one on the fortress but it’s difficult to determine if it’s hand stitched from the distance of your photo. Much appreciated.

    • Le Parcorama

      Hi Luis, thank you for the nice comment! Here are all the pictures I have of the beautiful Pirates of the Caribbean flag, I hope it helps :-)


  13. We used to live in Paris, now we live in Shanghai and we got the chance to visit the park yesterday.
    We had a FANTASTIC time!! Since it was a week day, we managed to try everything (except Tron and Jet Pack since one of my kids is not tall enough). We went absolutely nuts about Pirates of the Caribbean which is, to me, hands down, the best ride ever. We did it 4 times and absolutely loved it.
    I need to thank you very much for all the information you give about Shanghai Disneyland as it helped me to plan our visit very well. I only watched the videos today since I didn’t want to get spoiled.
    I thought the entire park was really neat and well attended to. The staff must be getting better at English as we only encountered members who could help us and even a CM named “Luc” who could speak a bit of French.
    Please people, don’t believe what you read about Chinese people being rude or ill-behaved and annoying, they are charming people and always keen on having a word for the kids, asking where you come from and everything.
    Now that we know Shanghai Disneyland, we feel Disneyland Paris is totally outdated (except for Ratatouille which is truly an wonderful ride)
    From where we live, it only took us a 45 minute-metro trip to get there, I would advise taking the metro to get there as traffic in the morning can be particularly slow. We came back with a taxi as we were utterly exhausted. The queue to get one was very long but I guess the crowd to take the metro back must have been just as bad.
    On the whole, thus, a thouroughly enjoyable experience and we will definitely come back.

    • Le Parcorama

      Hi Sophie, thank you so much for the kind words, it truly makes this blog make sense to me!

      I’m happy you had a great experience in SDL. It’s important than those who had the chance to visit bust all the bad buzz about it. While not perfect, this park has SOLID assets from day one.

      Thanks for your transportantion tips, I’m sure it will help future SDL visitors too :-)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *